Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 22

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
The apparent reawakening after the war, largely the work
of the English Stage Society, which produced the early Osborne
plays, encouraged many novelists and poets to turn to the theatre.
It also encouraged Jewish writers, notably Arnold Wesker; and
at the same time new managements who were willing to experi­
ment with unknown authors and unusual themes.
It has been suggested that the interest in Jewish writing can
be related to a deeply felt Puritan conscience over recent Jewish
suffering. Another suggestion is that the new “classless” genera*
tions were unwilling to support the old kind of cliche-ridden,
drawing room comedies. They responded to the warm passion
Jews brought to the stage-as they did to the many foreign plays
seen in the postwar London theatre.
The Most Prominent Playwrights
The most prominent contemporary Anglo-Jewish playwrights
are Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker, Bernard Kops and Peter
Shaffer. Except for Kops, their work is well-known to American
A significant factor common to the first three is that of genera­
tion and background. Shaffer, in contrast, is of German refugee
origin, non-English as well as non-Yiddish in tradition. One
curious coincidence is that all four achieved their first major
London productions in 1958.
Pinter, Wesker and Kops are all in their early thirties; the
latter two born in the Whitechapel area, to poor, working class
families of immediate foreign origin. Pinter was born in
Hackney, a slightly more affluent working class neighbourhood,
to which East End Jews progressed. Furthermore, he is second
generation and enjoyed a rather more prolonged education.
Before discussing their writing mention should be made of
an older author with similar background, Wolf Mankowitz. In
his novels
A Kid for Two Farthings
Make Me an Offer,
both successful films, and some one-act plays such as
The Bespoke
based on a short story by Gogol, Mankowitz gave the
wider public their first authentic taste of sentimental “Yiddish”
fantasy. Without the social-historical pretensions of Israel
Zangwill, he amused and moved large non-Jewish audiences with
his Chagallian characters.
If anyone is a direct heir to Mankowitz it is the composer-
adapter Lionel Bart whose Fagin in
is more Sholem
Aleichem than Dickens, and whose musical play
tells the
story of East End life under the bombs in precisely the same
Yiddish idiom.